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One man’s reflection on fauna conservation – and how it came almost 100 years too late

Dr Dan Lunney, a Senior Principal Research Scientist from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, will present this year’s Allan Sefton Memorial Public Lecture on Friday 27 April with his reflection on 42 years of fauna conservation.

The Allan Sefton Memorial Lecture, now in its 20th year, is an annual public lecture in the memory of the local naturalist and conservationist, Allan Sefton. The lecture is organised by the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the University, and supported by a fund established by BlueScope Steel Ltd (formerly BHP Steel), Wollongong City Council and friends of the Sefton family.

Dr Lunney’s address will be on the topic of ‘The rewards of being persistent: A NSW public servant reflects on 42 years of fauna conservation’. He has been employed in the public service for most of his working life researching issues related to how we might conserve the State’s wildlife and natural areas.

Dr Lunney’s areas of particular interest include the conservation of forest fauna, and koalas in particular, ecological history, and the human dimensions of wildlife management. His address will examine what might have been if the State Government had never tried to conserve nature in NSW.

Dr Lunney will argue that we would have remained as we were in the 19th century, and in the first half of the 20th century — no fauna protection laws, no national parks and nature reserves, uncontrolled hunting, more invasive alien species, a more intensive pattern of land use and no skills in wildlife management.

He will point out that the best time to have started a conservation program would have been 26 January 1788, but it was almost a century before the first steps were taken, with the setting aside of a Royal National Park in 1879.

It was not until the NSW Fauna Protection Act 1948 did the pace begin to quicken. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1967 consolidated land management for nature conservation with fauna protection. At that stage, 0.7% of NSW was parks and reserves — it is now approaching 9%.

Dr Lunney will highlight how the long delay in a formal, legal and enforceable interest in nature conservation, and fauna in particular, has meant that 40 of 891 species (birds, mammals, frogs and reptiles) have become extinct and a total of 26% of the state’s fauna is listed as threatened.

As a research scientist who specialises in fauna, particularly the ecology of native mammals, Dr Lunney’s work has included such vexatious issues as woodchipping and wildlife, the impact of fire, koala conservation on private land, bats and their public image, the commercial harvesting of kangaroos, wildlife management as a state responsibility, the debate on the ethical use of animals, and climate change and the media.

Dr Lunney has received an honorary Doctor of Science in 2006 from both Murdoch University, in Perth, and the University of Sydney. He is also a council member of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, where he has been an honorary editor of Australian Zoologist and the Society’s for the last 25 years.

Background on Allan Sefton

Allan Sefton was well known to residents of the Illawarra and further afield for his work as a naturalist and conservator of the local environment. An employee of the Port Kembla steelworks, his spare time was spent recording information about the local flora and fauna, advising on the proper use of resources and attempting to ensure the local environment was properly managed. His efforts were recognised by the award of the British Empire Medal (1975), the Order of Australia and the prestigious Australian Natural History Medallion (1978). His contributions to environmental science and conservation in the Illawarra were also recognised by the University of Wollongong which awarded Allan Sefton an Honorary PhD in 1989. Unfortunately, Dr Sefton died in May 1989, a few days before he was due to receive the award.

In recognition of his contributions to environmental science in the Illawarra region, Wollongong City Council and BHP donated funds to the University to be used in some appropriate way to honour the memory of Allan Sefton and his work. Discussions with the donors, the Sefton family and the University led to the proposal that a portion of the income derived from the Allan Sefton fund be used to award a prize to the best student graduating in the Honours Bachelor of Environmental Science Program at the University. The prize was first presented in 1993.

The balance of the income from the fund was used as a contribution to the establishment of an annual Allan Sefton Memorial Lecture, which is a public occasion where a distinguished Australian scientist speaks on a topic of wide environmental interest. This lecture series was initiated in 1993 with the first lecture being given by Professor Harry Recher of the University of New England. Subsequent speakers have been high profile Australian scientists working on environmental conservation issues.

Allan Sefton Memorial Lecture: WHEN and WHERE: This year’s public lecture will be held on Friday, 27 April at 5.30pm in Room G45 in Building 35.

For further information contact Professor John Morrison on 4221 4377 or Dr Dan Lunney on 0428 373 262.

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